By Jennifer O’Riordan

A new program to promote civic participation, government transparency and social opportunities in Honduras officially launched in August.

“We will be impacting the lives of more than 1.7 million people,” Counterpart’s Country Director Gloria Manzanares told an audience in Tegucigalpa. “We hope that, within the next five years, we will show citizens that stopping corruption in Honduras is possible.”

Counterpart’s Honduran office held a two-day event to launch the IMPACTOS program, which is funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The first event took place in the capital Tegucigalpa, followed by a second launch in the industrial city of San Pedro Sula.

As part of the launch, Counterpart brought together representatives from government, community organizations, the World Bank and anti-corruption groups to discuss key topics, such as the geographical focus of the project, ways to reduce gang violence and how corruption is perceived by the general public.

Speaking in support of IMPACTOS at the Tegucigalpa event, Honduran Vice President María Antonieta de Bográn highlighted how it will complement the government’s already approved Transparency and Anti-Corruption plan.

“In reality, a government only lasts four years but a society and most organizations are permanent,” said the Vice President. “We need to collaborate more with society and those organizations and that is what the President wants to incorporate into national plans.”

Other attendees at the launch included USAID representative Brioni James.

“The question we have to ask ourselves is: ‘What can I do to ensure transparency exists in my country?’” said James. “The IMPACTOS program is a good answer to that question. It encourages both citizen participation and the provision of more social opportunities.”

According to the 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) of 178 countries, Honduras ranks at 134. In terms of public sector transparency, Honduras achieved only 2.4 out of 10 and is lagging far behind nearby countries such as Costa Rica, which boasts a score of 5.2.

Highlighting the prevalence of corruption and finding ways to reduce it will not only have a considerable political and economic impact, but also a social one. In a survey carried out by the National Council for Anti-corruption based in Tegucigalpa, corruption is the third highest cause of anxiety among Hondurans.

“It is important that we ‘open windows,’ offer new perspectives to citizens about their role in making decisions regarding their community and society at large,” continued Counterpart’s Manzanares. “As a Spanish politician said only a few years ago, ‘we need more windows and fewer doors, more window panes and fewer walls.’”

The program will be carried out in nine of the country’s municipalities, among them Roatán, Tela and Choluteca. In addition to working to increase transparency and accountability of government institutions, the program will carry out activities to reduce the level of violence among youth.

Youth aged from 15 to 19 years old represent about 20 percent of the entire population. Ten percent of all Honduran youth neither work nor study – so that is a lot of vulnerable young people in need of direction, support and encouragement.

“We believe that we can contribute to improving security in this country,” said Manzanares in her closing speech. “We can do this by focusing on social integration, facilitating the empowerment of communities and bringing about the inclusion of youth and women, making them the protagonists in solving their problems.”

IMPACTOS continues Counterpart’s presence in Honduras. Two previous programs include the Coral Reef Restoration Project and the Scientific, Academic, Volunteer and Educational Project (SAVE), which began in 2004.

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